Chapter 15- Honoring a Brave Warrior
Gwen and Delilah, much like everyone else, have no clue that James died. Embarrassed by what has been predicted to be his final actions in life, Audrey, Sean, and Kyle all decide to keep their mouths shut for the time being.
The trip home for Gwen makes it bittersweet. Bitter that she’ll never get to rest another night beside her husband, but sweet in the fact that she can fulfill a wish Josh had put into his will for his friends correcting a long overdue crime. Gwen calls Benton to come to the house a couple of days after she arrives home to fulfill that wish.
“Good morning, my dear friend. How was the trip?” Benton answers his phone call.
“Ben honey, it’s Gwen, not Josh, and I need to speak to you in person. I, I have some bad news to share with you.”
Benton bows his head before he says anything to Gwen. “I knew something was wrong. The crows returned to the land of my people. When the hawks do not fly high, and the crows return, it means something has gone wrong. Just tell me this, did he go in peace?”
Sadness once again reigns its power over Gwen when she answers the question.
“I believe so. Josh saved our girls from a horrible person. I have his ashes here to scatter on the part of the land with your permission.”
“We will honor that wish in a ceremony. Josh was an honorary member of our warriors and a good man with a heart as bright and warm as the sun. I will be there shortly to talk. Farewell, my dear friend.” Red hangs up his home phone to head to Coal City.
A day and a half later, Benton reaches the house and knocks on the door.
“Come on inside!” Gwen calls out as she picks up around the living room.
“Greetings Gwen, I am here to finish our discussion.”
“Yeah, sorry, have a seat, and we’ll talk.” She informs him as they both take a seat in the front room.
“My people send their love and apologies. We all view Josh as one of us, as I told you earlier. They are delighted to honor his name and his spirit in a ceremony fitting for our bravest and strongest warriors.” He educates her as he sees the pain burn in her eyes.
“He’d love that, and he loved giving back to you and your people too back when I took the case and leave it him to have found a way to enhance the del even more. He thought so much of you all. The help with the land and being able to give it back and you. Which brings up another point, Lilly and I have decided to move.”
Caught off guard, Benton is rendered speechless at first.
“This is your home, though.”
Gweny controls the conversation with a surprising swerve. There is a detail about the land granted back to Benton’s people.
“It doesn’t matter anymore. Besides, Josh made sure the government can’t reclaim it either. We fought tooth and nail to ensure you always have a home here for generations to come. President Burns made sure everything is ironclad.”
“Thank you both with all our hearts! We have fought for generations to get what was stolen from us returned. The kindness of your heart handing it back without asking for a single penny. I can’t even express the gratitude I have for you and him.”
Gwen smiles when she pulls herself to her feet.
“Gimme a second. I need to get something.” She disappears, and Red can hear her shuffle through some stuff in the back closet.
She returns with a rolled-up piece of paper. Gwen and Benton exchange a hug.
“This is the title to the Bronco. I know he would want you to take it. Also, take the Blazer too. We’re making some changes around here.
Benton bows his head before he sends Gwen an offer.
“Come nightfall in a few days; please bring Josh’s ashes with you. Delilah is welcomed to come along too. We will hold a meal and warrior ceremony in his honor.”
“That will be perfect, thank you, oh and this is from me. I’ll pay for the trucks to be shipped. You and Josh put it so much time fixing those things that they should remain with you.”
Benton gives her a signal of understanding.
“I will keep them up, thank you, and he is here with us now. I can feel his spirit surrounding us. Speak to him if you wish.”
Gwen’s not been one to believe in the Native American traditions, but to speak to Josh one more time, she opens her heart.
“Josh, are you really here? I’d love a sign to know for sure, but I’m here with Red. I miss you more than you could ever know. We shared so many laughs, fights, and good times that it doesn’t seem real that you’re gone forever. I’ve never loved anyone the way I love you. You were my soulmate, the kids are my heart, and together you all made me feel whole. I’ll never replace you, my love; you will remain my first thought of the day and my last thoughts at night before I go to sleep. We shared a wonderful time, and your spirit is not allowed to leave me!”
Both Gwen and Benton bow their heads to share a moment of silence.
“That was beautiful. Josh loved you very much too. He told me stories about you both over the years. I’ve also had the pleasure to witness many happy moments. You were both perfect for the other. I must go now to prepare for his ceremony. When you arrive, meet my wife. She and our son will guide you to the spot.”
They exchange another hug before Red takes his leave. Gwen returns to straightening up the house and takes an inventory of everything to pack up.
When she’s finished, she and Lilly search through the listings in the Carolina’s for homes.
“Wow, look at that one there, three bedrooms with a wraparound porch and an inground pool!” Delilah squeals, glancing through photos.
“We’ll see. I like it too, but I think we can do better.”
Nearly three hours later, they shut down without a winning vote on their first day of searching.
“Ugh, mom, this is hard!” Lilly expresses with her arms folded across her chest.
“Relax, it’s only the first-day little girl. Don’t have a cow, ma’am!” She taunts her daughter, gently giving her a nudge on the shoulder.
“Ah, mom, that’s so old, like you!” Lilly makes a wisecrack, the first one in days.
Silence fills the house again when the mother-daughter duo stops shoving around on each other.
“You sure you want to head to North Carolina?” Gwen mentions breaking the quiet session.
“Uh-huh, I am mommy, it’s not Ohio, and it’s not Virginia. I know you and dad don’t care much for either place, and well, North Carolina is pretty.”
“If that’s where you think you’ll be happiest, then we’ll head there.”
Hope begins to gain momentum in a positive light in their lives once again when they smile at each other.
“I think daddy would want us happy, mom. He said the world was mine when I grow up!”
Just seeing the twinkle return to her little girl’s eye makes the difference. The simple gesture of a smile is all Gwen needs to feel relief in her heart.
Once the sun sets and the humidity in the air thins a bit, the evening feels calm.
Gwen and Delilah travel to Wyoming the following morning. It takes them most of the day to make the journey. They rest up in a motel before they finish the trip out to Benton’s land.
They arrive and meet Benton’s wife and son to guide them out to the bond fire hosted by the Redhawk tribe. On the way there, a glow from the hills become visible in the distance. Every step, the flames’ glow grow as they arrive with Josh’s ashes safely tucked between Gwen’s hands.
The size of the massive flames astounds them both.
“Oh wow, that’s a huge fire!” Gwen mentions clinching the urn with all her might.
“May I?” Benton says in a traditional funeral robe with headgear.
“Not all of it; we have to scatter more across the mountains.” Gwen reminds him, shaking as she stretches out her arms to hand the ashes over.
Benton dips his head and returns to stand near the fire to begin the ceremonial ritual.
“My brothers and sisters, you know why we are gathered here tonight. To pay tribute to our fallen brethren and talk to the spirits to assist in peace for his family. We are here to give passage to a brave warrior who became our brother, our friend, and most importantly, a hero to our people!”
Chants mixed with echoes through the night’s sky as the moon shines bright on the crowd below.
“Loyalty, Duty, Honor, Partnership, Forgiveness all things each side has learned from the other. When Josh first arrived, we believed another white man came to ravage our lands and pillage our resources. We were proved wrong by his, no let me correct that, by their kindness and generosity. I am proud to call them not only our friends but our family.”
Gwen stands there and observes Red collects a small portion of the ashes to toss them into the fire with a tribal prayer.
“Elders and ancestors, we call out to you on this night. We call for you to gather together and grant our prayer! Together we pray that you guide Joshua Bradshaw to the other side with you and embrace him as we have. He was a brave warrior who fought with the mighty hawk’s courage and the strength of the powerful grizzly bear. His wisdom and faith ran deep like the sweeping river with a soul that shines like the sun to bring life to our people. He now walks with you as he travels from his plane and leaves behind his family. Come forth spirits of our past to comfort the pain of the present while we wait to see him in the future!”
The flames fan in the wind with the return of every person chanting their native language, asking the prayer to be answered. Gwen, for a split second, could swear she sees Josh smile at her within the flames.
“Thank you, wise elders, and walk-in peace, our friend, our brother until we meet again, or as we say Dodadagohv I.”
One by one, they begin to dance for several minutes around the swaying flames with a chant that ends the prayer, which means ‘see you again,’ to honor Josh’s memory. Gwen and Delilah wait for them to finish before they speak.
“Thank you, that was wonderful. Josh would’ve enjoyed seeing that if he was here.” Gwen says, taking the urn back into her arms.
“He is here. We can feel him in the wind with our elders. You will see soon enough, trust us. All of you will see.” He says, standing there with his head bowed to Gwen and Delilah.
“Come with me. We’ll walk you to our home.” Mrs. Redhawk instructs the two of them when she motions to follow behind her and her son.
“C’mon, baby, let’s go home,” Gwen calls to Lilly.
That night something spectacular occurs when Delilah fights sleep. She blinks, and suddenly she’s stuck somewhere that’s special to someone very close to her. Everything around her is dark, but a mystical fog begins to rise from the ground with a dim light off in the distance.
“Hello…” She cries out as the light helps her way through the fog.
The repeat footsteps are all she can hear for a while. She stumbles upon a conference-style cherry wood table with two seats at each end.
“Hello… What is this… Mommy… Aaron… Brooklyn… Emily… Connor… You out there?” She shouts, scared, listening to the sound of her voice in the abyss.
“Hi sweetheart,” She hears directly behind her, forcing her to jump.
She twists her body to see her father stand there in a charcoal gray suit.
“Sorry to startle you, but please take a seat. Let’s talk for a little while.” He says, pulling the seat out while he floats on his feet down to the opposite end of the table.
“Daddy…” She muffles under her breathe.
Josh smiles, interlocking his fingers, and stares at his youngest child.
“Red said you’d see me eventually. Your want and belief you have to see me one more time are what made it possible, my sweet girl.” He explains.
“I miss you and wanna hug you, daddy. Please don’t leave again; I need my daddy. Mommy needs you too!” Lilly wipes her eyes, unable to move from her chair.
“Doesn’t work that way. I’m just here to talk and say goodbye. I love you more than you will ever know. You are the very best part of me in the world. You know that, don’t you?”
Delilah huffs deeply, collecting her thoughts.
“But, but it ain’t fair, it’s not fair!” She yells with her heartbreaking all over again.
“I’ll be there right beside you every day Lilly. You won’t be able to see me, but you’ll feel me there. I’m also inside of your heart. You know that. Half of your heart came from me, and you have such a huge heart to give to this cruel world.”
The tremors in her body continue as Josh talks to his little girl.
“Calm down, Lillibug. It’s alright, I promise. Daddy wouldn’t ever leave you or mom, okay. You wanted to see and get one more chance to talk to me. Well, here I am, and I am okay. I am safe. I will be your guardian until the day I wake up. No more tears, no more pain, no more sorrow to engulf that broken heart. The first time I held you, you took my finger, and I knew you were destined to be better than I ever dreamed possible.”
“Daddy, why did you die? Why didn’t you fight harder? Why did you leave mom and me? She’s sad without you and me too. Emily and Brooklyn aren’t okay without you here. I am not hurt. I am mad! I am so mad at you for leaving.”
Josh sits there, beginning to fade a little when the light behind him begins to grow brighter.
“No! You can’t go yet. I’m not done! Please a little longer, daddy!” She screams, reaching out for him but still unable to get up from the seat.
“You still have some time, and it’s okay to hurt and be mad. I know those feelings all too well. Don’t let them consume you as they did me. Your mom worked herself almost to death to help me heal from old wounds that lingered.”
Unwilling to take it, Delilah fights with every ounce of strength in her heart to escape the seat that keeps her prisoner as the light grows brighter and her father grows dimmer.
“Ugh!” She grunts, feeling momentum on her side.
She’s finally able to break free then charges to her father with open her arms, diving into his chair. Her efforts pay off as she feels her arms around his neck as he begins to say his goodbye.
“I did it. I made it to daddy!” She screams with tears free-falling from her eyes.
“I knew you could do it, Lilly. You had to prove it to yourself first. I’ll always love you, remember that.” Josh pecks her on the cheek then vanishes, leaving her arms empty.
“Daddy no…” She sobs with her arms around her shoulders, crying harder than ever.
“I love you. Come back. I don’t want you to go! Please, I’ll do anything to have one more hug.”
That’s the end of her vision when her mother comes in, shaking her.
“Delilah, wake up! Come on. Sweetheart, wake up, please!” Gwen pleads when she hears Lilly scream in her sleep.
“It’s okay, Lilly, wake up!”
Out of nowhere, Delilah blinks her eyes and nearly leaps into her mother’s lap.
“Mommy, I talked to daddy! I got to sit down and talk to daddy!” She cries with her arms squeezing her mother’s neck.
“Oh sweetie, it was only a dream. You’ll be okay. Just calm down and relax. I have you!” Gwen states, hugging her child tightly.
“NO, NO, NO, NO, NO, it wasn’t like that at all mom, please listen. We were at this long table, like a really, really long table, and I was stuck in my seat. I wanted to see him so badly. It was too short, mom! I didn’t say goodbye, but he talked about how you helped him, and like yeah, I got to see and hug daddy one more time!” Lilly cries, explaining it to her mother, who never told her that she aided Josh with his PTSD issues or anything else about his past.
Gwen can’t believe it, but, in her mind, Benton was right that Josh would make an appearance to prove he was okay and would able to give them closure.
“As long as it helped, that’s all that matters.” She tells Lilly when the sun begins to peer into the window.
“All that matters is daddy told you goodbye. Now you can begin to put it behind you.”
“I’m sorry, mommy, but I wanna go back there for a little while. I love you, mom!”
Gwen releases Lilly, allowing her to lay back down.
“Sweet dreams, I’ll have breakfast ordered in a couple of hours.” Gwen shuts off the light and shuts the door, and gently steps outside to reflect.
She rests on the edge of the metal banner with her hands locked on a picture.
“See you in my dreams, I guess.” She says, staring at a picture of herself with Josh from the day they got married at the Outer Banks on the beach.
Gwen takes in a deep breath then goes about packing up to leave in a few hours.
She kisses her wedding ring, and one piece at a time, she slowly reflects on her past, trying to be optimistic about her uncertain future.